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A Poor Prognosis for Foreign Policy

Recent Actions in Congress Show a Failure to Adapt to the Post-Cold War World

By Hugh G. Eakin

In a bill resonant of arms-race era defense initiatives, the Senate on Friday voted again to augment military spending. Specific outlays called for an additional $1.5 billion for the Seawolf submarine, increased spending on a domestic defense system against missile attack and a vote to scrap an earlier vow to discontinue missile testing.

Let us ignore for a moment the worn-out argument that right-wing hegemony in the Senate has led to a policy of coupling spendthrift defense spending with the broad elimination of spending on social programs. Let us instead consider the bill on its own terms; assuming that such a military budget is necessary in today's global climate, to what extent do measures called for fulfill our strategic interests?

The aim, the Senate informs us, is clear. We recognize the several threats facing us in Strom Thurmond's cold-waresque-but-post-Cold-War "dangerous world," and we will counter them with decisive resolution. Given the current state of United States foreign affairs, Thurmond's assertion has more than a grain of truth. In the last year alone, we have found ourselves mired in diplo-disasters including the Bosnian fiasco; the collapse of relations with China; the hampering of our security policy in the "new" Europe by an increasingly unpredictable and frequently hostile Russia; the shattering of would confidence in our capability to handle regional security "hotspots" from Rwanda and Somalia to Iraq and Chechnya.

All of these recent developments can--and should--be blamed in part on poor foreign policy, but a call for a new diplomatic and strategic leadership from the U.S. has not materialized. We can no longer afford to waffle on such issues as the expansion of NATO and our military commitment to United Nations missions. We are indeed, as the Republican Senate warns, the solitary possessors of superpower status in the post-Cold War era, and we must live up to that status.

Ufortunately, the Senate's medieval answer to these issues will prove at least as damaging to this end as the Clinton-proposed spending cuts it intends to reverse. Far from enshrining a responsible program of U.S.-led multilateral leadership in global security, it demonstrates an ill-timed lapse into feudal self-interest. Instead of upgrading the rapid-deployment and flexibility potentials of our military task-forces in dealing with local and regional emergencies more efficiently--whether in Haiti or the South China Sea--the new bill announces our increasing ideological immobility.

Displaying the Senate's unwillingness to navigate the current geo-political landscape, the bill confirms the Republican foreign policy platform's extreme strategic shortsightedness. We have decided to pork-barrel Cold War defense industries at the expense not only of the long-term economic sector (in lost job re-training and industry restructuring in the defense sector, in addition to lost re-allocation of defense spending for economic interests) but also at the price of immediate security needs. Clinton was guilty of this in his half-hearted stand to support unnecessary U.S. military bases threatened with closure earlier this year; the Senate in its costly new legislation is much more so. If we consider each point of the proposed new budget allocations, the flaws become manifest:

Rejuvenation of SDI.First we must ask: Do we need a missile-defense system, and, if so, how serious is the threat of a nuclear attack on the U.S.? In the best of all possible worlds, our national security program would garuntee protection against all forms of attack, including nuclear. Unfortunately, we are not living a geopolitical Candide, we must prioritize our defense initiatives. Mush more relevant to our current security agenda is the establishment of an authoritative multilateral watchdog organization to prevent this nuclear threat from even taking shape. While the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and the International Atomic Energy Organization have come a long way, North Korea's and, more recently, Iraq's flouting of the latter institution's regulatory authority suggest that much more could be done. Our active leadership in the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty is essential to this end. Increasing our budget for SDI, quite to the contrary, shows not only our lack of confidence in such measures, but also our belief that the arms race will continue, whether or not it has been "officially" curbed.

The resumption of "low-yield" nuclear testing. After a three-year hiatus in U.S. testing, this measure disrupts the current pro-disarmament climate and comes as a major diplomatic eyesore in the context of the upcoming Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. As we well know, when France announced--and then stood by--its obtuse decision to conduct eight nuclear tests off Murora Atoll, it placed itself in the company of Iran (which has been pursuing what some have conjectured to be an aggressive nuclear development program with French assistance) and China (with continues to conduct tests despite outrage among its Asian neighbors) as one of the handful of pariah countries still pursing conspicuous nuclear development. More importantly, during the 50th anniversary of Hiroshima, France has caused a global outcry, drawing caustic condemnation not only from Pacific nations including Japan itself.

Continued testing on our own part, we can assume, will not cause a similar uproar; it will take place on our own soil, and even then only on a scale with-in the limits called for in the upcoming global test ban treaty. Nevertheless, the hypocrisy of such an action plainly goes against the spirit of international disarmament and threatens to undermine global confidence in our resolve. These risks are all the more heightened in light of Russia's exemplary disarmament performance. To date, Russia has been disarming at the rate of 2,000 to 3,000 missiles per year; a move on our part to continue missile testing could sacrifice the future of this program and place at risk the hard-won U.S.-Russian candor now prevalent in nuclear politics, More importantly, it could give new fuel to the extremist view in Russia that NATO's hegemony of Eastern Europe will bring western military installations--stockpiled with freshly tested warheads--unprecedentedly and threateningly close to Moscow.

The Seawolf Submarine. The problems speak for themselves. Perhaps more blatantly than the other measures, this nuclear sub reveals the vast inadequacies of Cold War technology in dealing with today's security needs. What, in the absence of Red October, do we propose to hunt? The value of such an investment can only be in its ability as a deterrent; this, in turn, can only work effectively if there is a clarified target. During the Cold War, such a vehicle made excellent sense; it could loom menacingly around the Soviet continent, ready for immediate deployment in the event of a security crisis. In the age of isolated ethnic and regional conflict, the deterrent value of one additional submarine is virtually nil. In fact, unless the conflict directly involves us, it will not even be a factor.

If, say, China were to invade Taiwan, the presence of a Seawolf off its coast would certainly not hinder it; Beijing could comfort itself with the knowledge that, given the shaky status of Taiwan, drastic unilateral action taken by the U.S. on such an issue would be impossible, and any multilateral decision would involve at most a humanitarian, peacekeeping initiative. As with SDI and the missile testing deregulation, the uselessness of the Seawolf in international peacekeeping illustrates the Senate's disregard for the increasing internationalization of strategic politics.

In the context of the isolationism espoused by proponents of "Contract for America," the Senate bill reiterates the Gingrichian intention to withdraw the U.S. from the international stage. The Contract's single foreign policy goal has been--as Newt Gingerich euphemistically puts it--"to eviscerate the American role in collective security." Put more plainly, it call for the categorical removal of the U.S. from continuous participation in international diplomacy, without building an effective multilateral security architecture in its wake.

The politically-correct answer for this broad-based retreat is that, in the post-Cold War age, we would do well to push our financial and political weight towards more pressing issues such as the advancement of our economic interests. Germany and Japan have enjoyed their outstanding economic growth, it is argued, in large part due to their non-military status; we must avoid whenever possible the exorbitant costs of international policing if we hope to partake in this prosperity. The consequences of such a policy would compromise economic and political relations as well as our strategic links abroad. Indeed, while its revisionist policy on the U.N. aims at denying this paramount institution of collective security any real influence, the "Contract for America" cleverly fails to address the issue of foreign trade and investment altogether.

Economic relation aside, the new Senate bill starkly reveals even the domestic financial hypocrisy of such an argument. The same contingent that passed Gingerich's National Security Revitalization Act, which was supposed to produce a $1 billion budget cut by subtracting that amount from U.S. support of the United Nations, has now voted to uphold spending in our own military that would far surpass this gain in savings. By scapegoating international peacekeeping, the senate justifies SDI. Yet global policing has never cost us a fraction of our national defense initiatives.

Our biggest international effort in recent years, the Gulf War, was ultimately paid for by our European allies; we brought the guns, everyone else provided the funding. In fact, the U.S. already ranks only 20th, behind not only such smaller Western countries, as Britain and France but also in back of several developing countries, in contributions to U.N. peacekeeping missions. Given the extremely low American participation in U.N. efforts at a time in which regional conflicts are proliferating, the desire to spend $1.5 billion on submarines and Star Wars in the absence of any immediate superpower threat seriously undermines our international integrity.

We all agree, at least on a basic level, on the pressing urgency of global crises such as the Bosnian war and the importance of international resolve in dealing with such conflagrations. Why then the push for isolationism, or what Arthur Schlesinger has termed "the return to the womb?" Despite its minimalist rhetoric, the "new" position does not herald a fresh, more friendly geo-political landscape in which U.S. muscle is no longer needed. As the Senate bill shows, far from Francis Fukuyama's euphoric declaration several years ago that the era of major historical conflict had come to an end, the new policy derives from a blind faith in an old ideology and the applicability of Cold War strategy to the post-Cold War age.

We want isolationism in international issues, but in the sense of isolated participation and decision making, not isolation from the issue themselves. In our post-Cold War ambivalence, we fluctuate between the desire to decisively flex our muscles on our own superpower initiative, as we could during many of the Cold War years, and the sense that dis-involvement in anything that does not directly pertain to us is best. Hence, we call for air strikes on Bosnia, but refuse to send our own troops in there; hence, we act unilaterally to revoke the arms embargo while U.N. policies languish. We are stuck in a quagmire of wishful thinking and anti-communist nostalgia--a vicarious reliving of the days in which the West stood firm behind us and there was only one major enemy.

In 1683, at the height of his absolutist influence, Louis XIV ordered a quick, decisive and successful bombardment of Algiers for harboring pirates. Afterward, a medal commemorating the event was inscribed with the words, "Algeria Fulminata" [Algiers Struck by Lightning]. In much the same vein, President Reagan could announce our successful blitzkrieg on the unruly Quadaffi in Libya in April, 1987; at the time, the U.S. still enjoyed virtual Sun King status in the West.

Since the Soviet flag was lowered from the Kremlin for the final time in 1991, however, things have changed. The days in which we could simply and unilaterally "bomb 'em to hell" when the occasion arose are finished. Regional conflicts call for complicated, multilateral resolutions. And because collective initiative is harder to set in motion, most conflicts are too large in scale by the time action is taken to be conveniently solved by our much-favored hit-and run air -strike. We learned this a little in the Gulf War; the Bosnian conflict has bitterly rubbed it in.

Or has it? The latest evidence from the Senate suggests that we still entertain much of our former absolutist self-image. We would like to keep our royal prerogative in international affairs, but are unwilling to recognize the new diplomatic environment in which we will have to exercise it. Affirming our superpower status with nuclear subs and Star Wars hardly moves us in the right direction; the Senate's resolution threatens to seriously derail our central role in the development of collective security.

We would do better to call upon the new Eat-General--the international security community that we ourselves at one time helped create--to collectively work towards a new standard of consensus and responsibility in security issues. If we are to play a smaller role in collective security in the future, we must play a much larger role now in working towards that end. We need to move from the ideology of Cold War polarization towards a new polycentric internationalism; our strategic leadership--for which we have both a stockpile of potential resources and our successful history of NATO helmsmanship to draw on--will be crucial in making this transition.

We will never be able to say "Bosnia Fulminata" and find all the troubles there resolved. A move towards greater U.S. leadership in international co-operation and the willingness to support with our own resources and collective action taken, however, will greatly improve the credibility of international law enforcement. Such a move would alsoincrease the possibility of sharing our global-cop responsibilities with others in the long term.

Alternatively, the Senate's proposed defense program (combined with Gingrich's desire to "eviscerate" the American role in international affairs) will come back to haunt us. In the vacuum of a powerless U.N., we will find ourselves a lonely superpower indeed, fraught with the paranoia that unregulated nuclear arsenals all over the Middle East are trained at the West, and that consequently, a new and much more dangerous arms race--which the Senate's misguided Cold War idealism has already endorsed--is the only solution left to our national security.

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